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The IPL needs independent watchdogs

What makes the IPL v country debate more confusing in the case of Indian players is that both are managed by the same entity: the BCCI

Sharda Ugra
Sharda Ugra
India's premier opening pair is in danger of missing two upcoming Test series  •  AFP

India's premier opening pair is in danger of missing two upcoming Test series  •  AFP

On Thursday morning, Cricket Australia sent out a media advisory: it was an injury update on seven Australian cricketers, in alphabetical order, beginning with Brad Haddin and concluding with Steven Smith. The email wouldn't have been noticed had it not happened amid the tumult of the Gautam Gambhir IPL saga, a Twitter version of which would read: GG aggravates injrd shoulder in IPL, 4-6 wks rest reqd, Windies tour in doubt; GG didn't know injury that serious, KKR hassld, BCCI angry.
Australia's next tour is in August but clearly someone in CA is keeping an eye on its contracted lot. India set off for the West Indies on the night of May 31 and they play their first match on June 4. Their stand-in captain's injury has come as a shock to the BCCI.
Or perhaps it hasn't. Did the BCCI not know how all its players were doing before it selected the team for the one-dayers in the West Indies? Even if there was no post-World Cup check-up, was there no pre-event fitness report citing every cricketer's every niggle? Or did no one read it?
The injury report of Andrew Leipus, Kolkata Knight Riders' physiotherapist, states that Gambhir had taken cortisone injections in his shoulder for the past few years, so it's not as if the shoulder tore itself during the World Cup final. Was no one paying attention? Had the IPL distracted them all?
Through the saga of Gambhir - and, before him, the similar case of Virender Sehwag - the simplest question is this: which of the three parties in this case could have made the most-objective decision? The player, for whom the financial benefit - his contract with Kolkata Knight Riders was worth $2.4 million a season - of playing 64 hours of cricket over six weeks is far too lucrative to ignore? The franchise, whose most expensive auction pick was turning out to be its most valuable one? Or the BCCI, the IPL's owners, whose essential job is to ensure the health and welfare of that entity called "Indian cricket?"
On paper, the BCCI surely should have been the ones on top of the situation. In reality? Never mind. When formulating its framework, the IPL has not only chosen to ignore precedents from other sport, but in the Gambhir case, its own paperwork too.
In football, where the club v country debate is much older and deeper, there is a clear understanding that players must be freed for international duty during major events - even if it is mid-season and for up to a month, as with the biennial African Cup of Nations. For less important events like friendlies, club and national coaches engage in constant discussion about how to use the stars wisely.
In the IPL, every overseas player's contract contains an indemnification clause covering injury: should a franchise or a player fail to disclose an injury that affects a player's participation in national colours, the franchise can financially be penalised by the player's home board. For Indian players this happens to be the BCCI, the owner of the IPL. No one is clear whether it exists or not on the Indian player contracts.
The IPL's enormous economic success has ensured that neither the event nor its contradiction are going to vanish; what the IPL will continue to do is to churn up issues like the one involving Gambhir. Until now, the matter of players compromising national duty for IPL riches have mostly centred around those from other nations, with the varied case studies of Chris Gayle, Jerome Taylor, Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan. With Sehwag and Gambhir, the questions are at India's door. And they will keep coming.
The BCCI's answer in the club v country debate is well-known. It revealed its stand by resting three senior players - MS Dhoni, Sachin Tendulkar and Zaheer Khan - for the limited-overs part of the West Indies tour.
Every IPL v India episode proves why the BCCI actually needs to be overseeing the event, not participating in it. The West Indies saga - the players rested and injured - also indicates why "conflict of interest" is not just a collection of words. Consider this: were the Gambhir matter to be brought to a meeting between a single representative each from the BCCI, the IPL governing council and the franchises, N Srinivasan could possibly sit alone in a room and talk to himself. He is the BCCI secretary and its president-elect, a member of the IPL Governing Council and the owner of Chennai Super Kings.
The BCCI secretary would have known that Dhoni could do with a break after the World Cup but the franchise owner and IPL governor in him would have wanted his Chennai captain up and running. When a solution was found for Dhoni, why should Tendulkar or Zaheer be denied? Were India to tour England ahead of the West Indies would Dhoni, Tendulkar and Zaheer still have been rested? Who was sitting in during the Indian team selection for the limited overs section of the West Indies tour? Chairman of selectors K Srikkanth or Chennai Super Kings brand ambassador K Srikkanth?
In professional sport, most athletes will make careful financial choices and push their bodies as far as they possibly can, which is what Gambhir was doing. It is time to really worry when the players' own governors, its Board, believes it is no big deal if India go to England without their best opening combination of the decade.
The BCCI may be celebrating the conclusion of another financially successful IPL season but the time for chest-thumping is over. As other boards juggle FTP plans with the terms of player associations, the BCCI needs to visualise what is the best IPL window for Indian cricket in 2015, when the next World Cup comes around. The event has enough cheerleaders; the IPL now needs detached minders and independent watchdogs to ensure that its own appetite doesn't cannibalise Indian cricket.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo